This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2015, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Provo • Perhaps a little sooner than some expected when starting quarterback Taysom Hill was lost for the season midway through the opener against Nebraska, the 6-2 BYU Cougars are bowl eligible.
Their 70-6 win over overmatched Wagner gave them six wins and ensured a postseason appearance for the 11th straight year in coach Bronco Mendenhall's 11-year tenure.
BYU had a bye this weekend and will begin the November portion of its schedule on Friday against San Jose State which also had a bye at Spartan Stadium (9:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network).
In the past four seasons, since they became a college football independent in 2011, the Cougars knew which bowl they were headed to once they got to six wins because they had agreed to contracts with the Armed Forces, Poinsettia, Kraft Fight Hunger and Miami Beach bowls, respectively.
It's a bit different this year.
Assuming they don't get invited to a New Year's Six bowl game that is such a long shot that it is barely worth mentioning the Cougars will play in either the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl at Sam Boyd Stadium on Dec. 19 or the Hawaii Bowl at Honolulu's Aloha Stadium on Dec. 24. If they go to Las Vegas they will play the sixth- or seventh-best Pac-12 team, depending on whether Pac-12 teams make the College Football Playoff or a New Year's Six bowl. If they go to Hawaii they will play a team from the American Athletic Conference (AAC) selected by ESPN.
Several AAC teams are having fantastic seasons Houston, Memphis and Temple were all undefeated going into Saturday so the Cougars should get a strong opponent in either bowl.
Whichever bowl Las Vegas or Hawaii that doesn't get BYU in 2015 will get it in 2019.
So which bowl is most likely to get the Cougars this year?
Both are operated by ESPN Events. When the Cougars struck the deal last April, athletic director Tom Holmoe said the network will work with the bowls and the conferences with ties to those bowls to determine which matchups work best for all involved at the end of the regular season.
It is presumed that the more wins the Cougars get, the better chances they have of playing in Las Vegas. That bowl's per-team payout is an estimated $1.35 million, while the Hawaii Bowl, which is without a title sponsor, pays roughly $650,000.
The way it looks now, the Las Vegas Bowl will have to choose whether it wants BYU or the Mountain West Conference champion (Utah State, Boise State or San Diego State, most likely). The Cougars will play in the Poinsettia Bowl in San Diego in 2016 and 2018 against an MWC team. They don't have a bowl agreement yet for 2017.
Most believe the Las Vegas Bowl will have a hard time passing on BYU if the Cougars win their remaining four games at San Jose State, Missouri, Fresno State and at Utah State to go 10-2, but that's a big "if" considering the game against Missouri is at not-so-neutral Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City and Utah State is rolling again after stumbling at San Diego State last week. The Aggies (5-3) blew out Wyoming 58-27 on Friday for their 13th straight home win.
Coaches and players said Monday that having Missouri and USU on the schedule in November will keep them striving to improve. They generally scoff at the annual questions regarding late-season motivation once a bowl bid is secured.
"Man, I heard one time from an old-time coach that if you are not addressing motivation every day, it is a huge mistake as a coach," Mendenhall said. "I look for signs as to how much I need to say, and when. I really haven't had to do much. The team has handled that pretty well. I think they all realize there are a lot of pretty cool milestones out there that they could still get. And I think they realize they can still play at an increased level, too. And they are liking it. So I really haven't had to, you know, go to deep psychologically yet, even though the bowl game is established just because there are some pretty deep landmarks still ahead of us."
Team captain Bronson Kaufusi said the Cougars are in a good place entering this month, as opposed to last year when they went 0-4 in October after Hill's injury erased a 4-0 start.
"Being able to play in-state teams will always motivate you," he said. "To play big-name teams like Missouri, that is always motivating. Really, though, we just want to improve from where we are right now. So having a week to evaluate everything, and see what we need to do, it is going to be critical for us."
BYU's 2015 bowl possibilities
Bowl Date/Time Opponent
Las Vegas Bowl Dec. 19, 1:30 p.m. No. 6/7 team from Pac-12
Hawaii Bowl Dec. 24, 6 p.m. ESPN-chosen AAC team